The end is nigh: Brady chokes
How do you beat the Patriots? It's easy. Force four turnovers.
In the first official choke of a career defined by easily digested and tasty morsels of victory, Tom Brady tossed four interceptions in a monumental 29-28 loss at lowly Miami (3-11) Monday night.
It's just the fourth loss New England (12-2) has suffered since the start of the 2003 season. In each loss, the Patriots committed four turnovers. In fact, the four losses are the only games in two seasons in which the Patriots have committed four turnovers in a contest. The correlation between turnovers and defeat serves only to prove an irrefutable aphorism from the Poor Richard's Almanack of pigskin, the Cold, Hard Football Facts: turnovers are the second most important stat in football after final score.
Here's how turnovers have affected each New England loss over the past two season:
Buffalo 31, New England 0 (Sept. 7, 2003) – In Week One of the 2003 season, Brady threw four interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown by lumbering, 350-pound defensive lineman Sam Adams. The Bills committed two turnovers.
Washington 20, New England 17 (Sept. 28, 2003) – In what proved to be the last loss before New England's NFL record 21-game win streak, Brady tossed three interceptions and Kevin Faulk lost a fumble. The Redskins committed zero turnovers.
Pittsburgh 34, New England 20 (Oct. 31, 2004) – In the game that ended the record win streak, Brady threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and lost one fumble. Faulk also coughed up the ball. The Steelers did not commit a turnover.
Miami 29, New England 28 (Dec. 20, 2004) – Brady threw four interceptions, including two in the final two minutes that helped Miami overcome a 28-23 deficit and then preserve its victory. The Dolphins lost one fumble.
The loss to Miami is the first official choke in Brady's career. Here's why:
The Dolphins are one of the worst teams in football. Miami entered the game with an interim head coach, the worst record in franchise history and nothing to play for but the proverbial "pride."
The Patriots are one of the best teams in football. New England entered Week 15 as the defending Super Bowl champions and locked in a three-way tie for the best record in football (12-1).
The game had major playoff implications. New England was looking to keep pace with Pittsburgh (13-1) for the best record in the AFC, while fighting for the conference's No. 1 playoff seed. With the loss, New England has lost all but the most remote mathematical opportunity to capture the top slot in the playoffs. Not only that, the Patriots are suddenly in danger of losing out on a first-round bye and now must face a strong divisional foe, the N.Y. Jets (10-4), on the road in what becomes a virtual must-win game for New England.
Brady looked awful in key situations. New England held a 14-10 lead when Brady's first interception killed an effort to score in the final two minutes of the first half. On New England's first drive of the second half, Brady threw an interception right into the hands of Sammy Knight at the Miami 10, killing a scoring opportunity in the red zone. The Dolphins converted the turnover into a 17-14 lead. The Patriots sported a 28-23 lead with less than 2 minutes to play in the fourth quarter when Brady, deep in his own territory and under pressure, blindly threw the ball into the hands of Brendon Avanbadejo at the New England 21. The Dolphins quickly scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:23 to play. A comeback effort failed when Brady threw his fourth interception into the hands of Arturo Freeman.
It all adds up to something NFL fans have never seen before: a choke by Brady.
A loss in football, much like a victory, is of course a team effort. And New England's defense certainly played its part Monday. The Patriots have now surrendered 57 points in two games against Cincinnati (6-8) and Miami and the immortal quarterback trio of Carson Palmer, Jon Kitna and A.J. Feeley. The Dolphins entered Monday's game averaging just 16.8 points per game.
Fifty-seven points is the most New England has surrendered in consecutive weeks since mid-November 2002, when the Patriots beat Chicago, 33-30, and lost to Oakland, 27-20.
It's obvious that the Patriots can no longer mask a defensive backfield that features the likes of Earthwind Moreland, Randall Gay and Troy Brown. The Dolphins went right after Moreland and Brown on the game-winning drive. Derrius Thompson scored the winning touchdown when he beat Brown for the ball in the end zone.
It certainly wasn't a good week for the NFL's "big three," each of whom looked suddenly vulnerable in Week 15.
On Saturday, Pittsburgh escaped with a 33-30 win at the lowly New York Giants. Eli Manning played his best game as a pro and lit up the Steelers defense. Who knew at the time it would be the highlight of the week for the league's top three teams?
On Sunday, Philadelphia edged Dallas, 12-7, but lost star receiver Terrell Owens for at least six weeks to a serious leg injury. The loss puts a suffocating damper on Philly's Super Bowl hopes.
New England capped an inglorious weekend for the big three by losing to Miami.
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